Downloadable version

The content on this page is available in a downloadable format.

January 2014

What is biotechnology?

Biotechnology is a broad term that relates to using living organisms or parts of organisms to carry out biological processes for us in industrial processes or services. There are many examples of biotechnology in agriculture, medicine and waste recycling.

It includes using microorganisms to transform materials (such as in fermentation), different methods of propagation (such as plant cloning or grafting), and may involve genetic alteration (through methods such as selective breeding).

What is gene technology?

Recent advances in biotechnology provide ways of introducing very precise changes to genetic material—the sets of instructions in the cells of all living creatures—which can include genes, parts of genes, groups of genes and so on.

This allows, for the first time, researchers to transfer the properties ‘instructed’ by a single gene from one organism to another.

Using these new techniques (commonly called gene technology), researchers can modify organisms by directly inserting or removing one or more genes so that an organism gains, loses or changes a specific characteristic or set of characteristics. For example, a variety of cotton has been genetically modified to resist pest damage by producing toxins that target certain insects.

The organisms changed or created using gene technology techniques are usually called genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Gene technology has a wide range of potential applications.

Area of application
Examples of potential applications
ResearchConducting basic research in biology and medicine with GM microorganisms, animals and plants
AgricultureIncorporating resistance to pests/diseases, incorporating herbicide tolerance, altering the timing and duration of flower production, or improving nutrition
Therapeutic goodsModifying microorganisms to produce therapeutic products such as insulin and vaccines
MedicineDiagnosing and treating disease
Industrial usesProducing enzymes to use in food processing, producing paper pulp and biological leaching of minerals
BioremediationUsing microorganisms to decompose toxic substances and clean up industrial sites or environmental accidents

Do you want to know more?

We welcome your questions about gene technology and GMOs. You can get in touch with the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.
Top of page